Monday, November 10, 2014

Either I am a troll, or we are going to hell in a handbasket

Someone asked me lately if I believe that America is going to hell in a hand-basket because of the election results from November 4, 2014. I realize that at times, my online persona is that of a troll. I feel bad about it. But I am passionate about my faith and the way it informs my politics.

So, I may be a troll all the time, or, I may have a passion.

But I do believe that perhaps we are going to hell in a hand-basket. Or at least, we are setting ourselves up, as a nation for the judgment of God. I believe that many things are said in the name of Christianity are not biblical and do not reflect the teachings of Jesus.

I see a progression since 2008, when the President was elected. And I see it mainly in four areas. There is much, much more for me to comment on. And this is long. But, it is as abridged as I care to make it.

The first tidbit of rhetoric that I perceive will bring the judgment of God on the USA.

1). Marginalizing the poor: Isaiah 58. When believers "point their fingers at the poor," God denies them the blessing of revival.

Let us use Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Pastor John Hagey as examples. The three are powerful spokesmen for the Conservative and Religious right respectively.

I don't believe that it is an exaggeration for me to say that they make it sound as if the reason why our country is in dire trouble is because of the entitlements for the poor. I see them as people who are marginalizing the poor.

And that is just unchristian. It reminds me of what one of our Theologically and Religiously Conservative Brethren ministers said: "I hate the way Rush Limbaugh says what I believe." I overheard him say this while I as a ditto-head. I was offended by his remarks. But then, I started listening to the way Rush Limbaugh made his statements and I realized that I agreed that his speech was causing a divide. Once I began questioning his methods, I also began questioning his conclusions and I realized that he was only exposing one side of the argument. And, he was doing it with satire and ridicule. There wasn't much substance to his logic. I understand enough of logic to realize that his arguments are Ad Hominem: The logical fallacy of attacking the character of your (debating) opponent instead of his or her conclusions. To me. Ad Hominem amounts to a admission of defeat since the argument is no longer based on the merits of the respective side. However, it is one of the primary devices used by those engaged in Political Science.

So, my questions to the right are these: Do you see the marginalization of the poor in right wing rhetoric? And do you see how I can consider it as grossly unchristian rhetoric and as a preacher, feel a strong motivation to confront Christians about this kind of speech? Do you understand that not all, even most of, the poor are not lazy?

(Remember, I see this as a progression) This segues into:

2). Economic policies, Small versus large government, a debate since the inception of the Constitution.

2.a The great recession of 2008:

Following the string of "logic" from the previous point, the political right seemed to yell about the debt -a metaphor for a smaller government- and imply that the real problem with our nation is the staggering amount of debt created by entitlements. At least, that is what was heard, a lot, on FOX news.

I believe that it is an intentional mis-direction of the problem. The great recession was not caused by entitlements. The great recession was caused by deregulation of the banking industry. And, correct me if I am wrong, this might be the hyperbole from the left speaking, but it seems to me that one of the values voters embraced in this last landslide election was "smaller government." I.E. More deregulation. That was the problem. It seems to me that since this whole thing started, the Right has tried to change the story to blaming the poor instead of Wall Street.

(And, a point against my logic, but one I need to concede because it really is the bigger problem: the real problem is Wall Street's control of both the Democrats and Republicans. Both sides are in bed with them and they -as the Bible says- are the real oppressors.)

2.b Policies designed to strengthen the lower and middle classes (as opposed to the wealthy classes):

Let me give my own version of an example of how Keynesian economics works:

For numbers sake only, suppose I make $5,000,000 per year. How much of that can I spend? Let us imagine it is $1,000,000, for the sake of the example. The other $4,000,000 goes into savings and accumulates wealth. It is used for investments to help others and etc, but it isn't turned over in the economy like this second example.

Imagine I make $50,000 per year. How much to I spend? Pretty close to $50,000. All of that money is poured directly back into the economy. The grocer I buy from makes $50,000 and he spends all of his money, the gas station owner makes $50,000 and he spends all of his money. That income has now been taxed 3 times.

Because it isn't spent, the other $4,000,000 the wealthy guy has is not being used to buy gas, groceries, widgets and thing-a-ma-bobs.

(To be fair, I must say that Investments are not evil. Savings do get used to create investments and without it, the grocer, the gas station owner, etc. can't invest in their business in the first place, so I concede it is necessary -but economic policies must be balanced to ensure the survival of the middle class, and as a just, or righteous nation, the policies must also work to address systemic poverty.)

But if the guy making $50,000 per now makes $40,000, his ability to stimulate the economy is lessened, the rich guy, who owns the company that makes the thing-a-ma-bobs and widgets all of a sudden starts selling less. He lays off other (now) $40,000 per year guys, who now aren't buying the widgets and stuff, and more people get laid off and the cycle spirals downward.

Now, real life examples about the actual negative cost of the rhetoric of smaller government in this last election cycle. For example. Indiana has become a small government state. FWCS decided to outsource the janitorial services for all the school buildings. Politicians bragged that they saved the city over $3,000.000. The company that won the contract fired all the janitors and let them re-apply for their jobs. They were fired from $20 to $25 per hour jobs and re-hired at $13 to $15 per. They lost their houses, their cars, their pensions. Did the big businesses profit by this loss? I believe the overall impact to the entire economy was negative.

Governor Pence, small-government administrator, laid off many Highway workers and closed many InDOT "igloos." Then Indiana had a bad winter and there was not money, salt, budget or employees to clear the roads. As a result, many businesses were forced to close, losing revenue. Now I know the grocers sold as much food as they would, but the gas station, the restaurants didn't. Contracts that were dependent on critical time weren't finished. The economy lost. And, the biggest "savings" being wages for the snow-truck drivers, also meant reduced amount of money for people to buy the widgets, thing-a-ma-bobs and etc. Blue collar government jobs stimulate the economy, build vital infrastructure, and since the wages are relatively low, all that money goes right back into the economy. I remember an economics teacher in High School explaining to us that because the money is turned over 3-4 times a year, more is returned in tax revenue than is spent by the government. But, if it is solely kept in banks for investment purposes -building the war chests of the rich- it turns over less and its over economic stimulus is reduced.

Personal small points about this. My son, Tim, works in a "small government" county in Maryland. His contract ensures that he gets a nominal raise every year. The small government county commissioners refuse to honor his contract. My other son, John, has a different, but similar potential problem. When guys like Gov. Walker, of Wisconsin got elected by decrying the pensions of civic employees, civil employees lose. These small government types have publicly stated that they will not stop until they take away my son John's pension. To them -they are on the record as saying this- John is to lose his pension. Two of the people I love more than anything else in this world are actually harmed (Timmy right now, and John if they get to follow through on this rhetoric) by this idea of smaller government. And for what? Again, the payout is recuperated if and when there is a strong middle class.

I understand that people do not feel the economic recovery we have made. That is mainly because wages have stagnated while real costs have gone up. So, the average middle class worker has less buying power. Again, this is a negative cycle because less and less widgets and thing-a-ma-bobs are being produced (rich people lose) and the middle class has less money to buy them (poor people lose). The same has happened to me, but maybe for other reasons. My retirement investments are doing great, better than I projected. But I will have to delay because the height of my earning potential years have grossly stagnated. We are earning 30% less than what we anticipated earning at this age.

How did Gov Walker get elected by the people whose pensions he cut? It seems to me that he did it by creating moral outrage over the quality of benefits that civil employees get. (At least, I heard conservatives decry the pensions that civil employees get). Again, this directly affects two of my children who have entered civil service as careers. Why should they be denied basic retirement benefits? Why do police officers, teachers, fire-fighters and other unionized civil servants vote for those who promise to bust their unions and their collective bargaining rights? That will be showed in my third point. Remember, these are all only my perceptions of the facts. These are my opinions. I welcome yours. I do.

So, my questions to those on the right are these: Do you embrace the implications that the problems with our economy were MAINLY caused by entitlements or by deregulation? What is the biggest driver of our debt, is it entitlements, or wars fought on credit cards? And, if the debt is such an evil, then why put wars on credit cards?

This segues into:

3). Marginalization of the rest of the others:

Blue collar workers vote against themselves because they are outraged by the actions of the others and Conservatives promise to deal with them.

This addresses what I believe to be unchristian values by the religious right. These are those who are marginalized.

3.a. "Illegals." Simply put, Jesus would have us call them neighbor. Leviticus 19:33-34 gives us a spiritual principle of justice. Essentially, God said, "you were aliens once and I protected you, therefore, you must protect others." And then God said: "I AM THE LORD." That statement, I am the LORD is a warning: "I am watching how well you do this." The implication is that God's blessings will be given or withheld based on our obedience to this Spiritual Principle."

3.b. Homosexuals. Romans 1, and Ezekiel 16:48-49 tell us that God gave them over to their homosexual lifestyles because of Idolatry and rampant materialism respectively. God created them as a judgment. It is another spiritual principle, If people refuse to follow God, then God takes away our ability to reproduce. When Abimelech took Sarah as wife, all the women in his kingdom could not conceive. Terminal sexual deviations (sexual deviations that do not lead to reproduction -abortion, pornography and etc.) are the judgment, not the reason why we are judged.

(Note, added later. Two good friends called me out on this. Their comments -received via email- are copied to the comment section. Everyone needs to hear what they have said. I have an apology and response to this in the comment section as well. And I am working on a different paradigm for myself that is more generous and loving.)

And yet, the religious pundits cite these deviations as the cause, not the result. They fear-monger about coming judgment. But my whole attitude toward homosexuals changes when I view them as the victims of sin, just like medical conditions are a result of the fall. Therefore, to me, I must ensure that they are as loved and cared for, protected by, both the church and society. I, just like Jesus, love homosexual people. I will never say about them; “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I embrace them for everything they are because the Bible says that God made them that way. 

I want abortion to stop because I believe in justice for the unborn. But to fight it, I must -I am compelled- to preach against injustice everywhere. Christians cannot be single issue voters. Women, as well as the unborn, must have justice. If I want revival to break out, according to Isaiah 58 then I must "cry loudly and not hold back...."

3.c. Islam. Jesus loves Moslems.

3.d. Palestinians. Jesus loves Palestinians.

3.e. Racism. I am a police Chaplain. I believe in and support the police. If it were up to me, only the police would legally own handguns. They are trained to use them. They take this job to place themselves in the line of fire in order to protect the rest of us. I do not personally know any police who are racists and abuse this trust. If they are out there, they are very few and by far the exception rather than the rule. And our media, a media that makes its living on hyperbole and mass hysteria, sensationalizes the times that it happens and by so doing, they create terrible problems for the 99.99% of honest, dedicated peace officers.

Having said that. And this has nothing to do with the police. I believe that Trayvon Martin would be alive if he were white. I believe that Zimmerman killed him because of racial fear. And the fact of that, to me, proves that racism still exists.

My great change happened when I realized that I was paying to high a biblical price in the war against abortion.

Why do we have to embrace all the values of the Republican party to stop abortion? Does Jesus want us to respond to the border crisis by calling undocumented residents: "Neighbor?" Does the US constitution guarantee civil rights for Homosexuals, Moslems and everyone else who we consider "the other?"

And finally, this segues into:

4). Fear mongering by the right.

"Homosexuals are going to ruin this nation." Nope, biblically, idolatry (in our case, the worship of money) and marginalization of the poor are the reasons why God judges nations.

"Illegals are taking away jobs from us." Undocumented residents are working the jobs that we wont work. They stimulate the economy (years ago, someone paid Rush Limbaugh himself to say this. I heard it back when I was a ditto-head.)

The other emotional capital used to cause this landslide victory, according to pundits, was Ebola and Isis.

One person in the US has died from Ebola. One other person has it. And yet, they were able to frame an argument against the President based on this. It seems to be fear-mongering to me.

ISIS. ISIL is a problem and I wish we had a clearer strategy on it. But, I believe the President's policy of forcing Iraq to deal with it with their troops instead of our troops is what is needed. If we go in and clean them out, they will just come back, either as ISIL or some other form of Al-Qeada. Iraq ignored the Sunni's, they reverted back to the tribalism that has defined them for thousands of years.

I blame Bush. We should not have gone there in the first place. We have to figure out a way to embrace governmental systems that are not our form of Democracy.

But fear-mongering makes it happen.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Power of the Story

On June 8, I shared the story of how a person, who may have been an angel transformed my attitude toward poor people. I met a man who seemed to be lying to me in order to gain my sympathy so that I would give him some money. And the man proved to be telling the truth. I failed to mention how I got to know the man in the process of helping him repair his vehicle and get on his way. When I regarded the man's humanity, my attitude toward him changed.

Jesus defended Himself for healing a woman on the Sabbath by telling those who would accuse Him, “this woman is a daughter of Abraham.” (Luke 13:16) He constantly forced people to look past the ideology of their religious and secular positions to the human consequences of their judgment. Jesus reclined at supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee and while Simon was judging Jesus for letting a prostitute touch Him, Jesus was considering the woman. He knew Simon's mind and although Simon correctly knew who and what the woman was, Jesus asked him to go beyond his judgment and said: “do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44)

Jesus taught us a new way of perceiving one another. He taught us to look at people as individuals and see their needs instead of judging them by our own worldview. We can get so caught up in our own perceptions that we forget what it is like to be someone who is different.

As a child, I developed my love for reading through the autobiographies of some of our nations great leaders. One of the most poignant stories I read was Benjamin Franklin's. Franklin let this axiom guide his life, taken from a Native American proverb: “Never judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes (moccasins).” Understanding people comes from knowing their story. And the story transforms us from judgmental to loving Christians.

When I regard the marginalized in our society, the minorities, the majority, the poor, the rich, the right, the left, the undocumented, those with different gender identities, and every one else who is ostracized by one group or another I remember that every one of them has a story that has shaped their lives. And my first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and the King calls them “neighbor” and “brother/sister.” I/we must do the same.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Call to Christian Humanism?

This is clearly just a rant from my personal journal, cut and pasted here without the thought of developing a thesis. So pardon the jumbled thoughts, please.

Today I am in angst over a TV show. I am watching this series on Netflix called “Orange is the new black.” It is about a debutante whose childish crimes catch up with her 8 years later when she is sentenced to 18 mos of prison. She is a good person, but like all dramas, not perfect, just basically good. And she is a victim of oppression by a corrupt prison system. I feel guilty. I feel like somehow her mistreatment is my fault. It is just a show, and there is nothing to be done about it. But I know enough about the system to believe that this abuse happens. Most people are in prison because of mental illness. The system is wrong. The only way to survive is to be involved in the wrong.

I believe that part of the reason the sexual predator at Bear Creek got off was because of me being to honest of a witness. He got caught in his evil, but evil is inside all of us. I would tell both sides. And the prosecutor decided not to go to trial a second time with me as the primary witness. Even though the man ruined my life, I recognize my own propensity for evil and I cannot judge another.

Are people basically good or evil? Many years ago, a bicycle was stolen from my garage. I paid less than $50, but its retail price was over $100. There was no way to be honest and tell the insurance what I lost. As hard as I tried not to, I had to accept the $100 payout of the insurance claim. The world is evil and there are a few of us who want to do right, in the heart, always. And according to this TV show, it is impossible.

But here is the bigger question: Why do I hate injustice so much? Why the angst? Why do I feel guilty that my tax dollars support such a corrupt system? And, injustices range the entire gamut of our culture. And if we permit one, we permit them all. And why aren't other people upset? Why did my colleagues in ministry imply that I should have gone along to get along? But the biggest is still, why do injustices cause such angst that I lose my own peace?

Is this not my Father's world? And tho' the wrong seems oft' so strong, is God not the ruler yet? Lord, Help me. He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

But my big question to myself is this, does this angst, this lack of peace, this anger and hatred toward injustice mean that there is something wrong with me? Am I wrong for caring so much?

When I see George Zimmerman get acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin, I am ashamed. I feel guilty. I feel as if it is my fault. When I hear Sarah Palin cry “death panel” about the ACA, I blame myself. Is it white shame? Is it Christian shame? Am I about to lose my faith all together? Is this me, Lord, losing my religion?

I guess one has to believe in the basic evil of humanity, or the basic good of humanity.

The show, “Orange is the New Black” has this woman who describes herself as a secular humanist when a crazy Christian is trying to convert her. It portrays secular humanism as the only moral world view. This show, along with COSMOS seem to attack Christianity. COSMOS does not need to ridicule faith in order to get its views across. They could get to the same science and include Christians like me. Why the attack?

I suppose that we Christians have brought it upon ourselves. And, worse off, we see the extreme fruits of our dogma in the fanaticism that blames the problems of unrestrained capitalism and over consumption as the judgment of God because of the so called gay agenda, entitlements and abortion.

I guess this is a call to Christian Humanism. “Imago Dei,” see Christ in every person. How do we re-create the narrative and explain our belief in people? Is it even true? Maybe all there is are people who are oriented toward believing in basic good, or people who are orientated toward believing in basic bad. Does the Bible support “basic bad” in the doctrine of original sin? Or, does the unbelievers basic God-given conscience, explained in Romans 2 mean that we are basically good? We are both. But, we can live in competition or we can live in community.

Lord, it is frustrating. It is hard. It is difficult to shine a light instead of curse the darkness. Maybe my angst is completely in sync with God's heart over a broken world. Maybe my angst is best assuaged in the redemption story. God, grant me your peace and give me the strength to persevere.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Days for Us

Three Days for Us.
It's Lent. It is the time for the Three Days. Remember? Jesus spent three years teaching us how to live. Then He spent three days atoning for our sins. Jesus spent three days redeeming humanity from its brokenness and separation from God. This is the atonement. This is what lent is all about.
There is an interesting transitional verse in the Bible between the three years and the three days. In John's gospel, Jesus is praying for the disciples in the upper room. In His prayer He says this: I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4) Isn't that odd? Right before He leaves to submit Himself to His death on our behalf, He tells God that He has finished....
Let us ponder that phrase. Let us wonder: “How can He be finished when His most important work, being the sacrifice that bridges the gap between God and humanity, has yet to be accomplished?” What does He mean: finished?
During those three years of Jesus' teaching ministry, Jesus, as God/man, was working for God the Father. He was working the God part of His God/man existence by teaching us how to live and love each other. He showed us how to love. He showed humanity how much God loves even the least of all people. He was a friend to sinners. He invited the little children to Himself. He included women, people of other races, people from the upper classes and people from the lower classes. He invited everyone. And that was His work for God. It is intended as a way of life for us.
Then, for three days, the man part of the God/man worked on behalf of humanity. He provided the sacrifice for us. His sacrifice was not designed to shame or condemn us (John 3:16-17). Jesus' work for us on the cross was designed to restore humanity to God. He spent three years working on behalf of God, three days working on behalf of humankind.
So, here we are in Lent. Lent focuses us on Christ's atoning sacrifice. On Sunday mornings we have been looking at salvation, or as I like to put it: Restoration. I like that word because it includes everything. It isn't merely a fire escape from hell, but it speaks of the holistic restoration of Spirit, Soul, Mind, Body and Emotion. The restoration is first to our loving God and then to each other.
The Bible gives two signs that this restoration has happened. The first is internal: we get to experience first hand his love through the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us -restored to God. The second is external: we are reconciled with each other -restored to humanity, even to our enemies if we permit it. What a witness!
This Lenten season, focus on how God has drawn us back to Himself. Let us experience the fullness of the atonement. And let us be restored to one another because God has restored us to Himself.
Pastor Phil

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Chris Tomlin, at Passion 2007, performed a song titled "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" It is one of my favorite songs. But there is a line in the chorus that puzzles me. He pictures the Church as "dancers who dance upon injustice."
What a peculiar visual image. How does one dance upon injustice? In the bible, there are many stories and parables that describe injustice. I get the feeling that our reaction to them is supposed to be anger. After all, how will positive change happen if people are content to let injustice survive? Isn't our moral exception to injustice the basis of human law? Doesn't God command us to establish government with justice?
But the book of Jonah tells us a different story. You know the Sunday School version of the story. Nineveh was doing wrong and they were about to be judged by God. But God, in His love for humanity, sent one of His prophets, Jonah, to warn them. Jonah didn't want to go so he set sail on a ship heading the opposite direction. The waves came; Jonah confessed; he was thrown overboard; the fish swallowed him; Jonah repented and God landed him on the beach in front of Nineveh. He preached and the city repented. We emphasize the miracle of Jonah surviving three days in the belly of the fish (yes, I believe it). But that isn't the point of the story.
Here is the rest of the story. Jonah was upset and angry with God because Nineveh repented. He said: “I am mad enough to die.” Israel and Nineveh were enemies. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh because he didn't want them spared from God's wrath. But God said 'There are 600,000 young age children....” The Spiritual principle that we find in the book of Jonah tells is that God alone is God, God loves everyone and God does not play favorites among the nations.
So how do Christians dance upon injustice? The answer is simple: with the gospel. God's news is good news. Jonah suffered three days in the belly of a fish because he confused his religion with his politics. God doesn't care about human political systems that always create winners and losers. His desire is for everyone to win. His desire is for everyone to be blessed. God wants to bless the entire world with no exceptions. That is why God came to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus said: I came that you might have life to the full. (John 10:10).
The gospel does not get political. The gospel tells a different story than politics. The gospel seeks to redeem everyone involved. Unconditional love melts hard hearts. Unconditional love raises up those who believe they are trapped in despair. Unconditional love creates generosity. The good news helps people no matter what station their life possesses. God loves saving the world.
We are the church. We have the same power inside of us. Romans 1:16 tells us that the good news is like dynamite that releases the power of God to transform anyone. Therefore, I am apolitical. And I have to remind myself that God loves every side as much as He loves me.
The mental image “dancing upon injustice” is different than “stomping out injustice.” Yes, the dancer is on top, but the dancer is celebrating God's love. And the celebration of God's love lifts the injustice up to the point of celebration. And that is the place where the Good News redeems us all.
Praise God!